The above banner picture is one I took from the summit of a mountain peak in Colorado last week, a hiking trail called the Crags near Pikes Peak.
As stunning as the view was from the top, what struck me most during our two-hour ascent to 11,000 feet was how good I felt all the way up, despite the elevation this Texas-flats girl isn’t used to. My legs felt strong, my footing sure on the granite and loose scree. My breathing was deep and steady overall, though at the steeper inclines my heart rate increased and there were moments when I was a little winded, but recovery times were swift and I never felt short of breath.
If I’d made this same hike three and a half years ago, the story might have been different. Historically on my visits to the area I’d get uncommonly winded from the altitude even climbing a flight or two of stairs, my heart racing, sometimes a little lightheaded.
For the last three years I’ve been working with a personal trainer. Nothing major—my gym and trainer (Fixed by Fitness and its owner, represent!) are focused more on real-life fitness: developing and maintaining flexibility and balance and strength as the body ages; building physical abilities and fitness for everyday tasks and interests; increasing my cardio capacity and recovery time; moving without pain.
That means that I work like a tortoise, not a hare: I’m not trying to “get buff” or bulk up; I just go twice a week for an hour and work on all these areas, little by little. I’ve been exceptionally consistent—especially for a woman who has never considered herself athletic and has historically truly loathed gyms and working out.
I simply show up and I do the work. Over and over and over and over.
And while I’ve noticed that I have much more energy and stamina, more muscle definition, and have even lost a little weight, it’s nothing drastic.
I didn’t really notice how far I’d come, fitness-wise, till I paid attention to how I was doing on this hike.
How This Relates to Writing
Like exercise, writing is often not made up of giant, sudden measurable strides forward in achievement or ability. Rather, you strengthen those muscles much as you might your physical ones: day after day, being consistent, showing up and doing the work.
Again and again and again.
Read more: “The Happy Harsh Truths of a Writing Career”
That regular work—whether it’s daily or a few times a week or any other consistent schedule—isn’t always easy, and it isn’t often glamorous (you should see me huffing and straining at many of my training sessions).
And it isn’t always immediately satisfying or even appealing: More often than not I look at my workout days as something to get through that I don’t always enjoy doing, even though I’m always happy afterward to have done it (sound familiar, authors?).
And while I sometimes have personal-best days on lifting weight, for instance, most days I don’t really see or feel a difference from the previous workout as far as progress. Exercise, like writing, has incremental payoff, usually by small measures at a time.
But…if we learn to take the time to step back now and then and notice—how we’re feeling, how challenging a certain area is for us compared to how it used to be, the caliber of our work—that’s when we really see the progress we’ve made.
I think it’s important to do that—in any area, but particularly in creative pursuits, where progress is so often gradual, not sudden; steady rather than dramatic.
Otherwise it can be easy to feel disappointed, get frustrated…even give up. I remember just a few weeks ago feeling disheartened that I had deadlifted only 110 pounds, when several weeks before that I’d managed a lift of 125—and my current goal is 140.
But, my trainer pointed out, I’d deadlifted the higher weight only once, and I did four sets of the 110-lb. deadlift. And a few months earlier I was lifting only 85 pounds. When I started I could barely do 60.
Training is incremental—and it pays off when you find yourself able to do things you couldn’t have done before: like when I recently helped my husband lift our washer and dryer up onto pedestals. (Oh, yes, I felt like a badass, indeed I did.)
Writing is hard, and it’s a struggle more often than not. When you’re trying to wrestle a plot, or do the hard work of character building, or scythe a path through weeds so tall you feel you can’t see your way out, it’s easy to wonder whether you’ll ever actually get good at this writing thing. Whether you’ve learned anything at all…whether you even know what you’re doing.
But instead of focusing on what you can’t do or haven’t yet done, take a step back for a moment and take in what you have already achieved, how it compares to what you might have done a few months ago, or a year, or decades.
- Perhaps you haven’t yet signed with an agent or publisher, but have you completed a manuscript…or two…or more? Remember when you started that first one and wondered whether you could actually manage to finish a whole story?
- Are you struggling through your first full-length manuscript, perhaps, and wondering if you actually have the chops to finish it? Remember when you’d never even tried before and dreamed of doing it? Remember looking at that blank page when you first started? How far have you come since then?
- Are you facing disappointing sales of your book, or lost an editor or publishing contract, and are worried about the future of your career? Remember when you’d have given anything to get published…to reach readers…to get reviews…to do all the things you have already accomplished?
Writing isn’t a journey with a destination or clear finish line. It’s a continuum, just like physical fitness. There will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, but if you are consistent and persistent then the arc will always bend toward progress.
Make sure you take time now and then to notice how far you’ve come.
Over to you, authors—do you ever take time to appreciate all you’ve learned and accomplished to this point in your career? Do gauge your progress as a writer by what you’ve achieved, or by what you feel you still lack? Do you consider your skill and talent against others’, or by how you continue to hone and develop your own? Do you encourage and support your writer friends by the same standards to you apply to yourself?